1997: Like PrEP but Covid

JMJ

Continuing the series of posts comparing this current situation to the AIDS crisis in the 80s, after 1985 and 1987 it seems good to skip a bit of time, to 1997 and today. The parallels continue to hold.

In conversation, recently, a friend and I were discussing the huge change that came over the Gay community in response to AIDS. Evidently this storyline is part of the “Television Version” and has some traction even outside the community. This story looks like this: in response to the health situation, the cities and states closed sex clubs and bathhouses and, as people started getting sick and then dying, the culture changed. Instead of focusing on sex, monogamous relationships became the pattern. Advocates for marriage took over the podium at events and in the public eye. Books like Virtually Normal came out. There was a lot of pushback against folks who were engaged in unsafe sex. There was widespread approval of the cities (and states) who closed the outlets for anonymous sex.

In this same time period, however, something else happened: in NYC was founded a group called Sex Panic! to demand something rather different: a return to the way it was before. They wanted to affirm all the previous expressions of sexuality that were common in the community and they wanted the freedom to return to them. This was the beginning of the mass popularity of such phrases as “sex-positive” and “polyamory”. Both had been around before, but they were not in the shared experience or vocabulary of a lot of folks in the community. As they became more popular in the community, they also gained traction in the wider population.

These two things – “Settle Down” and “Sex Panic!” – happening at the same time created a culture that wanted marriage – but also wanted to be able to have open marriages. However, AIDS was still a thing. Enter PrEP.

PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis (the taking of a prescription drug as a means of preventing HIV infection in an HIV-negative person). It means exactly that: a person who takes HIV medication on a daily basis in order to not-get HIV while they engage in sexual behavior that has varying degrees of risk. It’s not exactly a vaccine against catching HIV, but it’s basically the same thing: if there are enough of the drugs in your system, if you are exposed to HIV, you are safe. The drugs prevent the virus from gaining traction in your system. Coincidently, the same drugs seem to also have an effect in the battles against Covid-19. They are studying this now.

After all the cultural parallels noted between HIV and Covid, would it not be very rich if the solution were found in the same drugs?

Where we stand just now, as some things open, some states and cities open, is at the same cusp. We don’t have a vaccine, though. So lives are still at risk. But If we let the Sex Panic! side win, we’ll be right back where we started. The “Settle Down” side can’t win either: our culture needs to change, we cannot settle into working from home and letting the homeless die on our streets from a disease we kept outside.

Mind you, “herd immunity” is not the right answer since we don’t know what immunity looks like for this virus. For example: testing positive for the antibodies our bodies make to fight HIV means you already have it… not that you’ve fought it off. Untreated you will die. Is Covid that way? We don’t know. If you have it once, can you get it again? We think not… but are there different strains? If we’re immune to one, are we immune to the other(s)? Again, we don’t know.

But if we go into successive cycles of lockdowns, as seems possible, will there not be an economic collapse? I think so. Do we have a moral imperative to save lives – even poor, uncomfortable, jobless lives – over the economy.

Yes. YES AF. That’s the essential pro-life argument: a life is valuable, in God’s image, pro se – for itself. Economic conditions, etc do not overrule the value of that life, that icon of God.

But what we have learned, I hope, is we cannot go back to the way things were: our culture is sick. This virus is only a symptom. We need to fix wages, health care, politics, capitalism, trade…

This is not the time to settle down, either. This is the time to fight.

But in this time

JMJ

The Paschal Preface in the Roman Rite is only used from Easter to Ascension (or is it Pentecost? I don’t know). It’s present in the Novus Ordo nearly verbatim from the older order. Borrowing from Rome, the same text is also present in the 79 BCP for Episcopalians and in the People’s Anglican Missal for Anglo-Catholics of an older school. It’s a solid part of the Western Liturgical Tradition, both Roman and elsewhere.

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, at all times to acclaim you, O Lord, but in this time above all to laud you yet more gloriously when Christ our Passover has been sacrificed. …Therefore, overcome with paschal joy, every land, every people exults in your praise and even the heavenly Powers, with the angelic hosts, sing together the unending hymn of your glory,as they acclaim:

Sitting at home earlier this week, livestreaming Mass, I heard that phrase again. And it struck me: …in this time above all… the phrase is there even in the Latin, …in hac potissimum… Even in this Covidtide above all. What does it mean to praise God in a time of plague?

Church history is filled with answers to this question. From the earliest Church that knew persecution in Rome, Africa, and Asia Minor, to the missionaries who brought the gospel and their own death to the farthest corners of the world. Through the Middle Ages where the Black Death rained on the church so hard that she changed the prayer called the Hail Mary, adding from then on the second half, “pray for us now and in the hour of our death” to the prayer. To the 80s where she ministered to those with AIDS the sick and the dying even when we didn’t know that touching people could not give you the disease. The church knows plague and the church knows how to praise God in these times.

Yet, to be honest, the church’s knowledge and her experience is not mine. I do not know how to do this. Do any of us know how to do this? How do we praise God in this time yet more gloriously? Looking back at blog posts before mid-March of this year is not a trip down memory lane, but rather trip in the TARDIS to some other part of the space-time continuum. Then something happened in the middle of that month and the tone changes. I confess I forgot how to praise God. Fear is a human emotion and it’s ok: even Jesus was afraid. But letting fear run your life is not: acting on fear is proof of a lack of trust in God. You cannot make prudent decisions if the only thing or the strongest thing is fear. Prudence requires faith. You can wear masks, socially distance, avoid public gatherings – even Mass, and stay safe out of fear. But it is better for you to do all of that out of prudence. You can also demand your freedom, breath on everyone, and march into state houses with guns. But that’s bravado: which is also fear. You would do none of those things out of prudence.

To be blunt: acting on even economic fear is evidence of a lack of trust in God. Acting on political fear is even greater proof of the same lack of faith. God and his Church have been victorious over several dictators, not by political action, but by grace, miracles, and prayer.

So. How to praise God in this time yet more gloriously? Can we be overcome with paschal joy and exult in God’s praise?

The clue is in that next line: overcome with paschal joy, every land, every people exults in your praise. The true joy of the Resurrection means that this life is not all, this world is not the end, or, as the preface for a requiem says, life is not ended, only changed. Paschal joy is unstoppable: not because it goes on after death but because death is no more.

In mid-March, death became very real. Not that anyone was dying around me – although I have no way of knowing until all the random phone calls and checkins stop, probably next year. But death was real: literally any one of us could have been dead in 14-21 days. It has taken most of April to weed out of my life the things that were fear-based instead of prudent. Washing hands is not fear based. Washing hands and wearing gloves and using sanitizer (maybe both before and after putting on the gloves, as one store made me do) is fear-based. That store now offers the choice (gloves or sanitizer): but for a week after shopping there I was terrified I was not doing enough. Even in normal times, some friends make folks take their shoes off before entering the apartment. Since there is no vestibule in this apartment, this is not a shared affectation. Until now. That started as fear-based, but it actually is prudent: I’ve noticed what tracks in on my shoes from The Streets of San Francisco and ewwwww.

So, how laud him yet more gloriously? How to praise him with great praise as Tolkien paraphrased on the Field of Cormallen, even – or especially – in this time?

He has shown us, people, what is good and what is required of us: do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micha 6:8). I desire mercy and not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6). Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you (Matthew 5:44). Love one another as I have loved you: no one loves more than to lay his life down for his friends (John 15:12-13). This is how we might become even like Angels while on earth, who “excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening to the voice of his word” and are commanded to “praise the Lord” (Psalm 103:20).

This is our duty. No saint has ever signed a petition to “demand her rights” even to Sacraments. But almost all the saints have freely given up even their lives and their freedom to save others. No saint has ever unlawfully taken up arms to force others to change… in the name political Terrorism even cryptically named “Economic Liberty” whatever that is. But many a saint has laid down their lives to protect others from such terror. No saint has ever given up his trust in God out of fear of local gov’t’s or nameless, faceless, enemies to “take matters into his own hands.” These are the steps of those who are not praising God, but are only acting out of fear: not prudence.

Praise is an act of faith. An act of trust. And an act of humility. There is a reason the stereotypical image of “praise and worship” involves the exact same posture of those caught by the law. “Hands up” is an act of surrender. The surrender is required of those engaged in praise. It’s the definition, the physical and emotional reality, the sacrament of “walking humbly”. For Jesus it meant giving freely, being arrested in silence, bearing injustice, and death. That was his most-glorious praise of his Father. He did that not out of fear (even though he was afraid) but out of prudence and out of love.

What does our most-glorious praise look like?

There is No Place God-Free

Dore’s Illustration for Dante’s Paradisio

JMJ

Advent means meditation on the Four Last Things: Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell; and the longer I thought about it, I realized that my usual image was too static. The catechism says that it is separation from God (¶1033) but the church also says that God is Omnipresent .

The Psalmist asks,

Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy face? If I ascend into heaven, thou art there: if I descend into hell, thou art present. If I take my wings early in the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea: Even there also shall thy hand lead me: and thy right hand shall hold me.

Quo ibo a spiritu tuo? et quo a facie tua fugiam?
Si ascendero in caelum, tu illic es; si descendero in infernum, ades.
Si sumpsero pennas meas diluculo, et habitavero in extremis maris,
etenim illuc manus tua deducet me, et tenebit me dextera tua.

Ps 138:7-10

Where to go? No where. There is nowhere where God is not.

So how to understand the Catechism saying hell is separation from God? Even on earth, we can’t be separated: we can only ignore.

What I began to imaging was God, the Consuming Fire, as a massive solar wind. When you die, we think of it as “going to a place” but what really happens is that this place is simply stripped away: all the things that we feel block us from God fall away. And there we are: angels, the beloved, demons, God. All revealed as who they are. (CS Lewis gets this in Chapter 31 of The Screwtape Letters, but I think his image is static as well.) What now, oh creature of earth, Son of Adam, Daughter of Eve?

I want to hope, I want to pray that I may hope, when I’m exposed that way that I want to rush forward into the maelstrom of God’s burning, all-consuming Love. I hope, or rather I think I might, one day, be able to intend to hope, that I will drop everything and turn to Him, and let all that is not His burn away: that I will not hold back anything that will, in that hottest of all fires, suddenly begin to burn me as well. Certainly I could turn my back, shield whatever it is from His flame, but then I would discover He is omnipresent, omnidirectional, there is no back.

These flames are not fire as we might understand it, of course. This is Love: pure, unadulterated, unfiltered, omnidirectional, all-consuming, Love. We say we want it: but in the end, do we? We hide ourselves from ourselves. We do not want to acknowledge our darkest secrets even in the silent cloister of the confessional. We dare not admit the things that hide us from God, or the things we want to hide. We say we want love but we are not worthy of it.

Faith here is different from presumption. The latter says, “I’m a mess, but God loves me so I will bring my mess right into Church, right into heaven. I can make my mess a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving and God will welcome it. God will bless my mess anyway.” Faith says, “I’m a mess: I will offer my mess in praise and thanksgiving, and God will take it away and transubstantiate it. It will become my salvation because it is no longer mine. I’m not worthy of anything but I will offer it and let God decide in his mercy.”

Presumption will lead to hell. Faith will lead to heaven. And they are both the same, only the direction of motion is different.

Filling All Things with Light

JMJ

The Readings for Solemnity of the Ascension (B2)

Propter quod dicit : Ascendens in altum, captivam duxit captivitatem : dedit dona hominibus. Quod autem ascendit, quid est, nisi quia et descendit primum in inferiores partes terrae? Qui descendit, ipse est et qui ascendit super omnes caelos, ut impleret omnia.
Wherefore he saith: Ascending on high, he led captivity captive; he gave gifts to men. Now that he ascended, what is it, but because he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.

This is how the Byzantine rite praises Christ at Easter: 

In the tomb with the body 
and in Hades with the soul, 
in Paradise with the thief and 
on the throne with the Father and the Spirit, 
were You, O boundless Christ 

filling all things.

Today’s feast raises Christ again, from Earth to Heaven – and now with us as well. From this morning’s Matins in the EF, a Sermon from Pope St Leo the Great:

After the blessed and glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, wherein the Divine Power raised up in three days the true Temple of God which, in their impiety the Leaders of the peoples of Israel and Rome had destroyed (namely the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ), God was pleased to ordain, by His Most Sacred Will, and in His Providence for our instruction and the profit of our souls, a season of forty days which season, dearly beloved brethren, doth end on this day. During that season the bodily Presence of the Lord still lingered on earth, that the reality of the fact of His having risen again from the dead might be armed with all needful proofs. The death of Christ had troubled the hearts of many of His disciples their thoughts were sad when they remembered His agony upon the Cross, His giving up of the Ghost, and the laying in the grave of His lifeless Body, and a sort of hesitation had begun to weigh on them.

Hence the most blessed Apostles and all the disciples, who had been fearful at the finishing on the Cross, and doubtful of the trustworthiness of the rising again, were so strengthened by the clear demonstration of the fact, that, when they saw the Lord going up into the height of heaven, they sorrowed not, nay they were even filled with great joy And, in all verity, it was a great an unspeakable cause for joy to see the Manhood, in the presence of that the multitude of believers, exalted above all creatures even heavenly, rising above the ranks of the angelic armies and speeding Its glorious way where the most noble of the Archangels lie far behind, to rest no lower than that place where high above all principality and power, It taketh Its seat at the right hand of the Eternal Father, Sharer of His throne, and Partaker of His glory, and still of the very man’s nature which the Son hath taken upon Him.

Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us also rejoice with worthy joy, for the Ascension of Christ is exaltation for us, and whither the glory of the Head of the Church is passed in, thither is the hope of the body of the Church called on to follow. Let us rejoice with exceeding great joy, and give God glad thanks. This day is not only the possession of Paradise made sure unto us, but in the Person of our Head we are actually begun to enter into the heavenly mansions above. Through the unspeakable goodness of Christ we have gained more than ever we lost by the envy of the devil. We, whom our venomous enemy thrust from our first happy home, we, being made of one body with the Son of God, have by Him been given a place at the right hand of the Father with Whom He liveth and reigneth, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.




– Emphasis added. This is how important Our Lord’s Ascension is: it is the Crown of our Salvation. For now, not only are we saved from our sins and ransomed from death, but are we also welcomed to Heaven, raised higher than even the angels and united to the Godhead in the person of the Christ; who is of one substance with the Father and with us. 

A family like yours or mine…


JMJ

The Readings for TuesdayToday is  in the 5th Week of Easter (B2)
St Joseph the Worker

Quoniam per multas tribulationes oportet nos intrare in regnum Dei. 
Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God. 

Today is the Memorial of St Joseph the Worker. I think Joseph knew tribulations: there was the mystery of his not-yet-wife who was with child, the trip to Bethlehem that became a three year sojourn in Egypt, Herod’s soldiers, snoopy neighbors, and a business to run.

Today’s feast is one of the most powerful reminders that the Holy Family was a normal, every-day family. Filled with the presence of God and the actions of God, yes; like your family or mine is supposed to be.

Today’s feast is a reminder of the dignity of human labor. Pope St John Paul the Great said that work is one thing we share, as humans, with God the Creator: 

THROUGH WORK man must earn his daily bread and contribute to the continual advance of science and technology and, above all, to elevating unceasingly the cultural and moral level of the society within which he lives in community with those who belong to the same family. And work means any activity by man, whether manual or intellectual, whatever its nature or circumstances; it means any human activity that can and must be recognized as work, in the midst of all the many activities of which man is capable and to which he is predisposed by his very nature, by virtue of humanity itself. Man is made to be in the visible universe an image and likeness of God himself, and he is placed in it in order to subdue the earth. From the beginning therefore he is called to work. Work is one of the characteristics that distinguish man from the rest of creatures, whose activity for sustaining their lives cannot be called work. Only man is capable of work, and only man works, at the same time by work occupying his existence on earth. Thus work bears a particular mark of man and of humanity, the mark of a person operating within a community of persons. And this mark decides its interior characteristics; in a sense it constitutes its very nature.

We forget this thing: this mark of a person acting within a community. For many of us it is a struggle: we don’t have work, or we want different work, or we think we should be getting paid more, or we can’t earn enough to care for our families. More and more, today, the idea that work at all can be honored is giving rise to multiple layers of class within our society. The “elite” and the “blue color” spurn each other. Within tech companies engineers and operations folks can be seen on opposite sides of a huge divide. In San Francisco, in the wee hours of the morning, it’s interesting to me that the buses heading west bound on their routes are filled with blue color labor, while across the street and headed easterly, are white color folks earning many times more than the blue color folks. They want very little to do with each other, engaged in each their own struggle.

A friend of mine spends her day working with the Homeless of SF. Many of the Homeless lost their apartments because a greedy landlord took advantage of a loophole in the law. The newly rich move into the building, the newly homeless end up on the street. But then the newly rich complain about the newly homeless on the streets and the cycle begins again. My own industry seems to spawn folks who are both afraid of the homeless and quick to call the police. According to Christian Teaching. we have an obligation to bring the Gospel to everyone, rich and poor We have an obligation to heal the wounds in our society as well. We are called  to unite the broken bits into one. This is not an easy task when the sides are not only alienated, but are also made to be at odds with each other.

This is where the Church is needed, I’m convinced, and perhaps not only in SF.  She needs to be an advocate for Justice, and a salve on the societal wounds. St Joseph, as the universal patron of the Church, is needed: respecter of the poor, advocate for the laborer – even one who is unemployed, model of protective care for the family and for the Church, his intercession as we work to resolve these issues in our world is needed. 

Some random trivia: the Main Feast of St Joseph is 19 March, the traditional day (and Pre-schism, for what it’s worth). But that is always in Lent – and sometimes in Holy Week. So it often gets played down and, sometimes, transferred to another period after Easter. In a desire to give St Joseph a proper feast… (quoth the wiki):

Between 1870 and 1955, an additional feast was celebrated in honor of Saint Joseph as Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Patron of the Universal Church, the latter title having been given to him by Pope Pius IX. Originally celebrated on the third Sunday after Easter with an octave, after Divino Afflatu of Saint Pius X (see Reform of the Roman Breviary by Pope Pius X), it was moved to the preceding Wednesday (because Wednesday was the day of the week specifically dedicated to St. Joseph, St. John the Baptist and local patrons). The feast was also retitled The Solemnity of Saint Joseph. This celebration and its accompanying octave were abolished during the modernisation and simplification of rubrics under Pope Pius XII in 1955.
At the same time, Pope Pius XII established an additional Feast of “St. Joseph the Worker”, to be celebrated on 1 May, in order to coincide with the celebration of International Workers’ Day (May Day) in many countries.

This extra feast was a First Class Feast among the Dominicans at least in 1962 (as it is in the Extraordinary Form, still)… not sure what it is now. In the General Roman Calendar, this is an Optional Memorial which means it hasn’t any readings assigned to it. So it takes the readings of the day.

Through many tribulations… Joseph had those. But St Joseph embodies two other virtues that make him difficult to swallow for those who might otherwise celebrate 1 May: silence and patience. The walk to justice is not achieved by stealing from either side to give to the other, but rather by coming together to work for a resolution. Repentance and forgiveness are needed for healing. St Joseph’s patience, prayer, and labor, make a difficult model for us to follow. But he is no different than any other Christian saint in this respect. 

A blessed feast!